AW: I think my religion might be against it.

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Acupuncture Today – February, 2010, Vol. 11, Issue 02

Excuses and Absurdities

By Gregory Ross, LAc

At times the interplay between a detox acupuncturist and a client approaches the absurd. Case in point: this conversation between myself [G] and a young Asian woman [AW].

G: So, You want to try acupuncture?

AW: I have to ask my mother first.

G, reflects a moment, then decides on a direct approach: You didn't ask your mother before you hit the crack pipe?

AW: I think my religion might be against it.

G: What religion is that?

AW mumbles something.

G: Sorry, I didn't hear you.

AW: Blank stare.

Other Client [OC]: She said Buddhist.

AW: Yes, I am a Buddhist.

OC: Isn't that OK to Buddhists?

AW gives OC a hard look, and OC turns away.

G: This is an Asian healing practice; I never heard of a Buddhist sect that was opposed to acupuncture.

AW: I just had a C-section.

G: This can help with pain and speed up the healing process.

AW gives blank stare.

G: Any more excuses you want me to shoot down?

AW: No.

G: Ready to try a treatment?

AW: I guess so.

G, a few minutes later: So, how was that?

AW: It didn't hurt really, just the one needle a little.

G, 45 minutes later: How do you feel now?

AW: Relaxed, not so tense. Really good.

G: Do this every day you can while in the program. It will help.

AW: I will! You will get tired of seeing me! I'm gonna come every day!

G, thinking to self, "Heard this before!": Just get treatment as much as you can and we will both be happy."

AW is only seen one other time in the clinic.

She was quick on her feet, with three excuses in about as many minutes. At least they were interesting; I get tired of the most popular "I'm afraid of needles" excuse, especially from the tattooed and pierced crowd or the IV drug users, even if it is true. She at least was original: her mother, religion and a medical condition all in less that five minutes. AW was close on one. Religion can get in the way. She just happened to belong to one that supports acupuncture.

This, on the other hand, is the story of "June," a crack abuser in her mid-30s on her second time with us. She had not come to acupuncture the first time she was in our program but decided to try it this time. She came for treatment almost every day for months and was doing well. However, after not seeing her for about two weeks, she came in to tell me she would not be coming to acupuncture any more. I asked her if there was a problem and added we could talk about altering the treatment if need be. She just looked at the floor, then said, "I like it. It helps me calm down, even helps with cravings but, I told my pastor and he said it is devil worship, and I can't go against my pastor." I tried to reason with her: if God created everything then He created acupuncture as well. She agreed but, still said she could not go against her pastor. I sighed and said that if she changed her mind, she was always welcome. I never saw her again, she dropped out of the program a few weeks later.

I had dealt with religious chauvinism from the hospital chaplain who would not set foot in my clinic for two years. He eventually relented and we had some interesting conversations after that. Then there was a case manager who was upset that I would not let her lead people in prayer while in treatment. I have nothing against prayer, but the program has Christians, Muslims, Jews, Buddhists, Hindi and non-believers. She didn't so much pray, as launch into extended sermons. In my estimation, it was not clinically appropriate.

Everyone I treated through the probation department, had done time, was trying not to, or both. "August" fell into the "both" category. He had 52 tattoos. He had them everywhere, even on his face. Thirty-seven were "jail" tattoos, which are home-made with a sharp implement and heated shoe polish. He came only three times. I saw him in the hallway one day and asked him what happened. He said he didn't like the way the needles made him feel. Further conversation clarified the point: he wasn't ready to get clean yet and didn't like the way treatment messed with his high.

"George," on the other hand, was more than ready to stop using, especially since he was still selling, and the acupuncture helped him not smoke up his profits. What he didn't like was the seeds. After the needles come out, most NADA practitioners tape "seeds" (Semen vacaria) on the ear shen men point, if the client so wants. "George" didn't like the seeds, though. Not because they hurt, but because his "business partners" thought he was "wired" and a snitch. A very tense moment that included guns ensued until he convinced them they were just seeds, not the newest high-tech microphones used by the police.

More insidious was a short-term client named "Golden" who, as he put it, was OPD. This was his private joke; to him it meant Other People's Drugs. He prided himself on not paying for drugs whenever he could manage it. His gig was to recruit new people for dealers in exchange for drugs. He also was sort of a repo man, convincing people who were trying to stop to go back to the dealers, again in exchange for drugs. We kept a real tight watch on him, and he left after about two weeks. He must have thought he had hit the mother load. He was so proud of his OPD status that he disclosed it in his intake when asked about "income or job." He bragged about it in group. The whole community quickly knew. Solid clients challenged him when he got anywhere near more vulnerable community members.

Then there are the voicemails. "You have one new message sent today at 3:12 am," my phone said. This was followed by a drunken voice slurring, "Where are you? You are never there when I need you. I need acupuncture, damn it." The absurdity that I would be in my office at 3:12 am, waiting for her to get acupuncture, made me laugh. It was followed by a silence in which I could hear her labored breathing, then a sob and a sorrowful rendering of the word "f**," as she quietly hung up. I didn't recognize the voice. I had no idea who she was.

Click here for previous articles by Gregory Ross, LAc.

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